Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hanoi Monday, Mar. 12

Still drizzly and cool, but quite pleasant for walking and exploring the tiny streets of the ancient quarter. Spent the morning exploring Hoan Kiem Lake with its Ngoc Son pagoda on a small island at the north end and the red Bridge of the Rising Sun connecting it to the shore. The city is crowded and noisy (remember the HORNS), but we finally encountered a smiling, friendly native, who walked with us across one of the wide boulevards. He explained that we should "walk slowly, don't stop, don't speed up," the cyclists will try to avoid us. So far, so good.

The Water Puppet Theater beckoned, so we reserved seats for the 4 pm performance. It was great fun, very different from the Traditional Thai Puppet Theater in Bangkok. These relatively small and brightly colored wooden puppets are operated on long rods on a water-covered stage. At the end, we learned that the puppeteers behind the screen are waist-deep in the water. The hour-long performance included 17 vignettes of traditional folk stories, our favorites being "catching frogs" and the festival welcoming home the newly degreed graduate. Just right. Again, the music was live with traditional drums, flutes, and stringed instruments.

Jim Deutsch met us for a drink at our hotel, then dinner in a classy restaurant in a restored old, French colonial mansion one block behind the hotel. The dining room had pleasantly distributed tables, but the cushy club chairs were too low for the table height, making it a bit hard to eat. Nevertheless, we had a fine time catching up with Jim and enjoying good Vietnamese food.

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